MANCHESTER City’s Premier League clash with Chelsea today will not decide where the title ends up this season, but it could have a huge bearing on how things develop from here on in.
The early kick-off at Etihad Stadium certainly has the potential of a cracking game and that is just what many fans expect of this tie, one that pits first on the log against second.
If form were to be followed to a T, then City would win it rather comfortably. But with Chelsea harbouring title ambitions of their own and showing enough resolve over the past couple of weeks to suggest they mean business, it may well turn out to be a closely fought encounter, albeit loaded with drama and perhaps with the reigning champions securing a win over their visitors by the odd goal or so.
Of course, City’s fans will subscribe to nothing of the sort. They will be keen on the Citizens stretching their winning streak in the Premiership to a dozen on the trot and accomplishing it with another polished performance and a hatful of goals.
There is no denying that Pep Guardiola’s Citizens are the strongest unit in the Premiership and on present form are the obvious pick in this fixture, even if Thomas Tuschel’s Blues do pose a real threat.
City though have been through a tough Covid-19 patch of sorts. They had 20-odd members of their first-team bubble, Guardiola and assistant coach Juanma Lillo included, in isolation last weekend and exactly what effect this might have on the side today remained sketchy at the time of writing.
Notwithstanding this, and the absence of Riyad Mahrez who is with Algeria at the African Cup of Nations in Cameroon, City should have adequate resources in hand to take the battle to the European champions – the side that beat them in the final last May and whom they edged out 1-0 in the league match in September.
If fit and well, Guardiola will most likely use the core of the side that beat Arsenal a fortnight ago, rather than the one that thrashed Swindon Town 4-1 in the FA Cup third round last weekend.
Bernardo Silva, Gabriel Jesus and Ilkay Gundogan were in excellent touch in both and could again star for the Citizens. In the eyes of many, Joao Cancelo has been City’s best player thus far this season. And if the Portuguese international is on the team sheet, it is more than likely that he will feature prominently again – both in attack and defence.
The central defence partnership of skipper Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte is growing in stature and proving to be a formidable one, so much so that if both are in the squad for today, they will probably start again.
Tuschel, whose stock is steadily rising, will look to the midfield pulse of Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic to pry open City’s backline. Key to their march to the Carabao League Cup final, these two have also been blossoming in no mean measure.
They are much-talked about as crucial components to Chelsea’s solidity in midfield, holding things together in the centre of the park and the architects of their thrusts forward.
The Blues’ rearguard is well spoken for too, although they will be without goalkeeper Edouard Mendy and possibly Thiago Silva.
Mendy is at the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal, where he sadly missed their opening game against Zimbabwe after testing positive for the coronavirus, while Silva was also suspected of the same.
Kepa Arrizabalaga should deputise in goal again and have in front of him Antonio Rudiger, Cesar Azpilicueta and Andreas Christensen as the back-three.
Tuschel will probably go with Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner to lead their frontline, a combination that can cause big problems for City and maybe go some way to making this the cracker that it promises to be.